Although they work behind the scenes and are often not considered one of the more essential components of a sports team, sports psychologists have become an integral part of most professional coaching staffs over the past 10 years. Some are now suggesting, with the ever-increasing number of student-athletes, that sports psychology be integrated into high schools everywhere.
According to the American Psychological Association, these professionals use “psychological knowledge and skills to address the optimal performance and well-being of athletes and systemic issues associated with sports settings and organizations.”
Most student-athletes could readily cite sources of stress that participating in sport(s) brings. From conflict with teammates to exhausting workout regimes and anxiety of losing status, there are a lot of sources of conflict outside of athletics that can interfere with performance abilities. Sports psychologists work to not only relieve these sources of stress, but create more positive mindsets that will prevent over-exhaustion, and conflict in the future.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, there are an estimated 45 million child and adolescent participants in youth sports. Specialization in a sport is becoming more and more popular at increasingly younger ages; most young athletes are choosing to participate in a single sports year round with scarce breaks. What most don’t recognize, is that left unmonitored, this process increases the risk of isolation, injuries, burn-out, and lifelong psychosocial issues for these student-athletes.
Although it is part of a coach’s responsibility to look out for the well being of their athletes, most would rather focus on hard practices and winning. Having a sports psychologist dedicated to the well being of the athletes outside of physical ability throughout their participation in a sport would not only benefit the athletes, but it would also free the coach to focus on strategy and winning.
In addition, a sports psychologist would be able to offer help for those who feel unprepared or pressured in a sport; through more personal conversations, allowing athletes who are overworked and overwhelmed, to be honest about how it is affecting their lives. An assessment of each student athlete’s sports readiness should be performed to determine if they are physically and psychologically prepared for the level of competition they want to participate in. It has been proven that a large gap between preparedness and skill demand can have severely negative consequences.
Too many student athletes are unable to cope with or be honest about feeling overworked, especially in a society that constantly demands more from teens. From teaching athletes to channel their fear while flying through the air on skis, to studying the effects of social media on the athletic world, and guiding leadership skills; sports psychology deserves a place in the modern day student athletic programs.